A UAV is defined as an aircraft with no pilot on board. It can be remote-controlled from the ground or it can fly autonomously, guided by a pre-programmed flight plan. UAVs can be used for recreational or commercial purposes.
In our business, contractors and aggregates producers are sending camera-equipped UAVs into the air to take dozens—if not hundreds or thousands—of images. The pictures, which are linked to GPS data, can be stitched together with special software, transforming them into a 2D or 3D site model. The model can be used to:
These tasks and many others can be done quickly, accurately and economically with UAV systems—assuming you have access to the right technology, analytics and expertise.
Two types of UAVs are available today; a third is emerging.
While the type of aircraft is important, other technologies in a UAV system also play vital roles:
UAVs sell at price points that range from a few hundred dollars to more than $50,000. Software and analytics can add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of a total system.
UAV design differences
Caterpillar has a small team of UAV experts whose focus is determining how the technology can be used to improve site safety, efficiency and profitability. We work with industry leaders like Trimble, who sells aircraft and software, and Redbird, a global leader in cloud-based analytics for UAVs. Together with our partners, we’re evaluating the technology on job sites in the real world. Our process is fairly simple whether we’re working with a contractor or aggregates producer.
We tested a fixed wing UAV in a US quarry that produces between 800,000 and 1 million tons of aggregate per year. Our pilot flew three 25-minute missions over the 350-acre site, capturing thousands of images that were converted into a 3D model within 24 hours. Had the owner gathered the information manually, the process could have taken an extra week or more. Costs and safety risks would have been higher and the data would have been less accurate. The company is using the data in a variety of ways.
This owner—like others we’ve worked with—started the process with a general plan for using the data, but ended up finding many more ways to leverage the technology and analytics.
As we test UAVs in the US and Europe, the feedback from contractors and aggregates producers is overwhelmingly positive. But despite the enthusiasm, there are at least three challenges to be aware of:
Look for UAVs to take off in the construction and aggregates sectors over the next few months and years. As this technology evolves, you’ll be able to combine machine data from your telematics systems with geo-spatial data from UAVs—giving you the power to take site efficiency to all-new levels.
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